Britain’s leading weekly magazine, the Spectator, held a debate on whether UK should leave European Union or not, with two teams, “Leave” and “Remain” fighting it out at the London Palladium. The “Leaves” were represented by Nigel Farage MEP (UKIP), Kate Hoey MP (Labour) and Daniel Hannan MEP (Conservative). The “Remains” were represented by Liz Kendall MP (Labour), Nick Clegg MP (Liberal Democrat), Chuka Umunna MP (Labour). The debate was chaired by Andrew Neil (broadcaster and former editor of the Sunday Times), who kept them fiercely to the issues on hand. It was apparent early in the alternate speeches that the “Leaves” had a sharper and more charismatic team. Nigel Farage abandoned his pulpit for centre stage to announce that common market voters felt let down now that the government has persuaded Goldman Sachs, Siemens, IMF, Barack Obama and the political class of the West to take their side with “dreadful consequences for trade”. He said neither the government, the House of Commons nor the voter could reverse a EU legislation: “When a European law is made, there is nothing we can do to reverse it. There is no direct democratic accountability in this system.” Farage called for a sensible post-Brexit immigration policy for people who have not got criminal records and that Britain should control her own borders and reclaim her sovereignty.
Kate Hoey made a memorable speech about the failings of the “corporatist and anti-democratic” EU, which has replaced the democratic will of the people in favour of big business. She received one of the loudest rounds of applause. Hoey quoted José Manuel Durão Barroso—“the EU is an antidote to democratic governments” and “the EU is going down the neo-liberal path of opening tax-dodging to multi-national corporations”. It was intriguing to hear her left-wing analysis about the economic rights of immigrant workers co-exist with Daniel Hannan’s arguments to leave based on global institutions that promote free trade.
The arguments demonstrated by the “Leaves” were that you don’t have to take an anti-immigration stance to vote to leave. All three “Remains” speeches were centred around Britain’s safe place in the world and who “we are”.
Hannan asked “Why do we tie ourselves to the one part of the world that is not experiencing significant economic growth? The eurozone, incredibly, was the same size at the end of last year as it was in 2006.” His speech considered trade and jobs, neither of which he claimed would be affected by leaving the EU. He quoted, “The EU deal with Australia is being held up because some Italian tomato-growers are challenging it. The EU deal with Canada is being held up due to an unrelated dispute about Romanian visa. How have we put ourselves in a position where we can’t do those deals?”
The arguments demonstrated by the “Leaves” were that you don’t have to take an anti-immigration stance to vote to leave. All three “Remains” speeches were centred around Britain’s safe place in the world and who “we are”. About how it was such a risk to leave the EU and how UK would sit on the sidelines of the world, their arguments focused around what in London is now called “the politics of fear”.
Some previously submitted questions from the audience were asked, about the economic risks of leaving; any positive reasons to remain; whether it’s safe to leave Europe to the Europeans; the threat posed by Russia and whether you can remain in the EU, yet limit immigration. Andrew Neil gave impressively short shrift to the politicians who tried to avoid answering the questions or gave implausible answers.
Before closing, a vote was taken. However, even after two hours of debate a surprising number were undecided. The rest of the room otherwise voted to leave by two to one, suggesting that the referendum on 23 June may be closer than the political elite would like.